Pierre Thomas expects to practice fully

Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who has missed nine straight games with a sprained left ankle, said he expects to practice this week with "no limitations."

Thomas, who was the Saints leading rusher in 2009, added that he's confident coach Sean Payton wants him back on the field, even though rookie RB Chris Ivory has been thriving with 254 yards and five TDs in the last three games.

"I know he's willing to play me if I'm ready," Thomas said.

Payton said he was "optimistic that we'll be able to get him into the lineup this week."

"I would expect this week for him to practice, take more reps and be ready to play," coach Sean Payton said Monday. "Yet we want to make sure that we're not just deciding that today on a Monday, but that we're paying attention to how practice is going. But he was encouraged and I was encouraged with the work week [last week's practices]. It was probably the first good full week that he's had where he has taken reps both on offense, worked on scout team and done a number of things. So I'm optimistic that we'll be able to get him into the lineup this week."

Fellow running back Reggie Bush returned on Thanksgiving Day after sitting out several weeks with a broken leg, but Payton said that Ivory will factor into the backfield going forward.

"Chris has done a number of good things and I don't want to affect his snap count at all in regards to his carries," Payton said. "We'll be smart about who's up and then having the plan that we think is best for our team, but certainly [Ivory] has earned the reps that he's getting now and the touches that he's getting now. He's a different type of runner than either Pierre or Reggie or Julius [Jones]."

Information from ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.